Monday, November 21, 2016

Constitution Day/Month/Year Success!

Lauri Fisher and Ted Kenney at BFA Fairfax

When lawyers are admitted to the bar, when judges are sworn in and when elected officials take office, they all pledge to uphold the Constitution.  Pledging to uphold the Constitution is of course easier said than done, as interpretations can vary.  But it remains the foundation for our government and for our governance among all those who live in the United States.

The United States has the shortest constitution in the world, and also the longest living Constitution at nearly 230 years.  It has approximately 4,400 words, without amendments and 7,500 with amendments. Compare this to say, the Affordable Care Act which clocks in at over 360,000 words and which covers only one thing, healthcare!  Our Constitution was designed to govern our society in its entirety well into the future, despite its brevity.  The Constitution is our backbone, and our glue, and is responsible for keeping this diverse nation functioning since its founding. While interpretations evolve as society evolves, it is the genius in the checks and balances system created therein that insures freedom, justice, thoughtfulness and equality within our society.

Constitution Day is typically celebrated on September 17th each year to honor the signing of the document on September 17, 1787.  What is less known is that it could as well be celebrated on November 26th, as George Washington established the first national Thanksgiving Day on November 26, 1789 to give thanks for the new Constitution!  Perhaps this Thanksgiving families should include the Constitution among the things they recite as being thankful for as the topic is passed around the dinner table.  Here at the VBA, while we celebrated Constitution Day with an open-to-public presentation by judges on September 21, 2016, we have continued the celebration right through and will continue to honor it in the weeks and months to come.

As part of our Constitution education initiative, the VBA has been handing out pocket constitutions to members who are willing to go to schools, towns or service clubs and give educational presentations about the constitution.    Since September we have given out approximately 2,500 constitutions and have ordered 2,500 more.  The VBA has also provided suggested presentation outlines and materials to those wishing to volunteer.  Here are highlights from some of our members:

·        Caroline Earle spoke at the Barre Rotary and received very positive feedback.  Rotarians found it to be ‘incredibly interesting’ and remarked that they would have listened to the presentation for another hour! They enjoyed the pre-election refresher on the balance of powers and their pocket constitutions.

·          Lauri Fisher and Ted Kenney gave three presentations to 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th graders at BFA Fairfax, reaching nearly 200 students. The students were extremely excited and asked a ton of questions.  The teachers asked them to come back in January!

·          Adrian Otterman presented at the Cornerstone Kids Homeschool Coop which consists of 60 homeschooled kids age K-12. He gave a short presentation on the Constitution and discussed the Bill of Rights.  He discussed the Framers idea of limited government and the checks and balances provided by our 3 branches, encouraging them to read the entire constitution as he believed they liked the presentation. 

·           Lisa Chalidze recounted administering tests to college freshmen where they either watch a Youtube video (typically 1-2 minutes) of, for example, a police shooting, or a controversial protest, or read parts of a court opinion, then take the factual scenario apart almost moment by moment to analyze with reference to the relevant Amendment (Fourth, First, etc.). She can now freeze a video at any point and ask the class: "What amendment are we talking about here?" and they shout out the answer: “Fourth!” or whatever as the case may be.
      Lisa reiterates that she asks each student to write their name in the Constitution and emphasizes: this is "your Constitution", both literally and figuratively. She has distributed 45 copies over the last few months to undergraduates, as well as another 40 or so to students at Rutland High School where she was assisting with a mock trial held at the US District Court in Rutland.

·          Will Baker met with about 18 fifth and sixth graders at Doty Memorial School in Worcester, and handed out Constitutions.  They had a fun and interesting discussion focused more on the bill of rights than the Articles or three branches, which is pretty complex for the age group.

·             Mark Sciarrotta and Jennifer Emens-Butler spoke both to the Orchard Valley Waldorf School 8th graders and the Whitcomb High School 9th graders with a discussion focused on the Amendments and the Judicial branch after the Constitution basics were discussed.  At OVWS, there was a lengthy discussion of T-Shirt cases and the First Amendment regarding dress codes.  The WHS students demonstrated some profound misunderstanding of constitutional protections, so the discussion focused on the First, Second and Fourth Amendments after sharing some basic information regarding laws and the three branches of government generally.

·            Teri Corsones presented to three Social Studies and U.S. History classes at Rutland High School, using a map of the original 13 Colonies (Vermont being noticeably absent!), a map of Vermont to show the importance of the Green Mountain Boys, especially regarding Fort Ticonderoga, Hubbardton and Bennington. She also passed around volumes of Vermont Statutes Annotated to give examples of what the legislative branch does, and volumes of Vermont Reports to show what the judicial branch does. Lastly, she quizzed the students from the U.S. Naturalization Test, to see what of the many questions about the Constitution in that test they could answer after the presentation.

Constitution Day/Week/Month/Year/Decade… will continue as pocket Constitution recipients, Jaime Heins, Meghan Purvee, Timothy Eustace and Emily Wetherell, among others, prepare for their scheduled presentations.  With heightened media coverage over the election season on Constitutional topics such as not convening a hearing for Merrick Garland, the wisdom or usefulness of the electoral college design and the proper distinction between what can be accomplished through executive versus legislative powers, there is no better time to help fulfill our duty to uphold the Constitution by sharing its wisdom! 

Contact the VBA today to pick up some pocket constitutions for distribution and please volunteer to discuss the role of the Constitution in our society in a school or service club near you!

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